Congresswoman Waters states that elections in Haiti this year would be a disaster
June 07, 2005
About Events Talk News Links Home

Congresswoman Waters states that elections in Haiti this year would be a disaster

Washington, D.C. - Today, on Capitol Hill, Rep. Maxine Waters (CA-35) released a statement on the recent escalation of violence in Haiti. The Congresswoman's statement follows:

The recent escalation in violence in Haiti, along with an outrageous decision by the Haitian Supreme Court, provides further proof that Haiti is not ready for elections.

This past weekend, there were press reports that the Haitian police raided the neighborhood of Bel Air in Port-au-Prince, killing at least four people and burning at least twelve homes. Last week, unknown gunmen shot a French official and stole his car while he was driving from Cap Haitien to Port-au-Prince. The official, Paul-Henri Mourral, died at a hospital in Port-au-Prince several hours later on May 31. At least seven people were killed the same day when armed men opened fire and started a fire that spread throughout a market in Port-au-Prince.

The latest violence came less than two weeks after the U.S. ordered all nonemergency U.S. Embassy personnel and their family members to leave Haiti because of rising crime and the lack of security. The State Department also issued a travel warning on May 26, 2005, that urges all U.S. citizens to leave Haiti and warned staffpersons who remained to stay in their homes at night. The travel warning was issued the day after unknown gunmen fired five rounds of bullets at a U.S. Embassy van traveling in downtown Port-au-Prince.

Earlier in May, the Haitian Supreme Court annulled the convictions of 53 former soldiers and death squad members who were involved in a brutal massacre in 1994. The soldiers and death squad members were convicted in November of 2000 for their participation in a massacre in Raboteau, a low-income neighborhood in Haiti, in which at least eight people were murdered. The Supreme Court's decision, which was based on a technicality, opens the door to the release of one of Haiti's most notorious criminals, Louis-Jodel Chamblain, the second-in-command of the brutal death squad known as FRAPH.

The Supreme Court's decision is just the most recent evidence that the judicial system in Haiti has become a sham. The courts barely function, and when they do, they are manipulated by those in power. On August 16, 2004, the interim government held a sham trial, in which the aforementioned death squad leader, Louis-Jodel Chamblain, was found not guilty of the 1993 murder of democracy activist Antoine Izmery. The trial was completed overnight, and potential witnesses did not find out about it until after it was over. Moreover, in December of last year, when two prominent judges ordered the release of prisoners who were political opponents of the interim government, Bernard Gousse, the interim Justice Minister, punished the judges by removing their caseloads.

Human rights violations occur with impunity in Haiti. Amnesty International has expressed serious concerns about arbitrary arrests, ill-treatment in detention centers, and summary executions attributed to members of the Haitian National Police. It has been estimated that there are over 700 political prisoners in Haiti, and most of these prisoners have been detained illegally for months without formal charges. Several former government officials and prominent supporters of the Lavalas political party, including former Prime Minister Yvon Neptune, former Interior Minister Jocelerme Privert, and Haitian singer Anne Auguste, are among those detained illegally. Yet, instead of ordering the release of illegally detained prisoners, the Haitian Supreme Court has resorted to reversing the convictions that resulted from past human rights violations.

It is abundantly clear that free and fair elections cannot take place in the current atmosphere of insecurity and violence in Haiti. Candidates will not be able to campaign safely or even travel from town to town without risking their lives. Nevertheless, the interim government of Haiti is persisting in its plans to hold elections in October and November of this year.

If elections are held under the current conditions, they will not be considered credible in the eyes of the vast majority of Haitians. The Provisional Electoral Council, which is in charge of organizing the elections, is widely regarded as biased and does not include any representatives of the Lavalas party. Furthermore, without a functioning judicial system, allegations of election fraud cannot be investigated and are likely to be ignored. If the interim government does manage to organize elections, they will almost certainly be marred by violence and only the winners will accept the result.

Those who insist that Haiti should hold elections this year are setting the country up for a disaster. Free and fair elections cannot occur in any country without a functioning system of justice and a modicum of security. The United States Government should use its influence with the interim government of Haiti to insist that the interim government immediately releases all political prisoners, establishes an independent judiciary, and postpones elections until violent gangs and death squads have been disarmed and security has been restored.

Until all political parties including Lavalas can travel safely, they cannot be expected to campaign for office, and until the people of Haiti can walk outside of their houses in peace, they cannot be expected to vote.

Valid XHTML 1.0! Valid CSS!